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NASA Considers U.S. Science Suspension Aboard ISS

NASA Considers U.S. Science Suspension Aboard ISS
Still half-built, the International Space Station (ISS) appears in an image captured by astronauts aboard NASA's shuttle Discovery during its July 2006 STS-121 spaceflight. (Image credit: NASA.)

NASAmanagers are considering suspending U.S. research aboard the International SpaceStation (ISS) next year in order to save money for the orbital laboratory'sconstruction, a top program manager said Thursday.

KirkShireman, deputy director of NASA's ISS program at Johnson Space Center (JSC),said dropping science research during the 2007 fiscal yearis one of several options on the table to make up for a funding shortfall of upto $100 million.

"Right nowwe're quite a bit in the hole," Shireman told reporters during a Thursday ISS missionbriefing at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. "We'll look at abunch of different options for the assembly budget; all those things are underconsideration."

NASA ispreparing its shuttleAtlantis to launch toward the ISS next month in the first of at least 15flights to complete construction of the half-builtspace station by September 2010, when the agency's three-orbiter fleet isretired. Atlantis' STS-115mission will deliver a 17-ton trusssegment and new solar arrays to the $100 billion orbital laboratory.

The futureof space station science has come under closescrutiny after NASA officials were forced to divert funds from its scienceand exploration coffers to make up for an then-expected $4 billion shortfall tocomplete the ISS and retire the shuttle program.

TheNational Research Council has issued several reportsciting the need for more ISS science and larger station crews in order to bringthe orbital laboratory up to its full potential. The potential drop in U.S.science aboard the ISS was first reported by the website NASAwatch.com.

Spacestation crew sizes were reducedto two-astronaut teams following the 2003 Columbia accident, butreturned to their three-person status earlier this month when European SpaceAgency (ESA) astronaut ThomasReiter joined Expedition13 commander PavelVinogradov and flight engineer Jeffrey Williamsduring NASA'sSTS-121 shuttle mission.

"The ISShas severe budgetary limitations next year," Shireman said, adding later thatthe station program is looking beyond its own resources for assistance. "We'reworking very hard not only within the program, but with headquarters as well tobalance it out."

Shiremansaid no final decisions have been made, but remained optimistic that the endresult would be positive.

"I'mconfident that we'll come out with options and a plan to go forward that willbe satisfactory for the ISS program and for NASA and the taxpayers as a whole,"Shireman said.

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Tariq Malik
Editor-in-Chief

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter.